On April 5th, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy delivered this speech to the City Club of Cleveland, Ohio. While the speech may be fifty years old, it is as relevant as ever and worth a listen.
“For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.”
As you probably know, accusations have been made that Parkland High School shooting survivor David Hogg is a paid actor; that his eloquent and circumspect statements are simply too polished for a young man to make. While I find this accusation both ridiculous and odious, I think it is an admission of something profound.
There is an art to speaking well, particularly when speaking of tragedy. Pericles is remembered for his Funeral Oration and Abraham Lincoln for the Gettysburg Address, another funeral oration. Many observers believe that the most eloquent words ever spoken by Robert Kennedy were those made the night he told a crowd that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been murdered. Dr. King himself so moved the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane by his eulogy for the 4 Birmingham girls killed in their Sunday school in September 1963 that it is believed that Coltrane timed this recording to the cadence and tropes of King’s eulogy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiJ_0gp-T9A
I think that these accusations against David Hogg -made by Alex Jones- are a tremendously important reminder of the power of rhetoric. Once rhetoric was not an epithet thrown at political speech, it was a subject devoted to the art of speaking well and clearly about civic life. I think it is a mark of the debasement of our political speech that when a young man comes along and speaks in the great rhetorical tradition which is the inheritance of us all, that he is accused of being an actor; that is, an artist.
He is an artist. Because he is resurrecting civic speech. He is an artist because he is talking within that great tradition of shared mourning.